THIRD CONVICTION NOW A FELONY


Published: Monday, July 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, July 1, 2002 at 12:00 a.m.
New law elevates prostitute charges By CINDY SWIRKO Sun staff writer A new law that elevates prostitution-related charges to a felony on the third conviction kicks in today, but it might take a lot of arrests to get anyone that third conviction.
Data compiled by the Gainesville Police Department - which makes most of the arrests for prostitution and solicitation in Alachua County - show that few of the sex customers arrested are adjudicated guilty. That adjudication is necessary to have a conviction on record.
"There is a large percentage that the courts - for whatever reason - withheld adjudication on," said State Attorney Bill Cervone. "Any number of things may have happened - cases being dismissed, acquittals. There could be a far larger number of arrests than commensurate convictions if they went through the whole court process."
Police said 37 men have been arrested for solicitation this year. Just six have been convicted. Meanwhile, 14 have had adjudication of guilt withheld. The State Attorney's Office decided not to prosecute two other cases. Another case was dropped. And two are in a pretrial diversion program that typically results in a clear record. Twelve of the cases still are pending.
Police have filed 13 charges of prostitution against 12 individuals. All 13 cases still are pending.
The new law was proposed by state Sen. Rod Smith, D-Alachua, and approved by the Legislature and Gov. Jeb Bush this year.
Prostitution and solicitation will become a felony on the third conviction. Also, a second conviction for solicitation can result in a one-year driver's license suspension.
Smith and law supporters said its primary benefit is that it will make prostitutes eligible for drug treatment programs available only to felons.
"There are some people who misread the bill and believe it was designed solely to defeat prostitution by jailing people or making them felons," Smith said. "The reality is that the motivating factor was that we are confident that diversion programs that address the 85 percent of prostitutes who are crack-addicted are a whole lot better than jailing someone overnight and having them back on the street the next morning."
The law provides for a civil penalty for soliciting prostitution of $500 which will go to treatment-based drug court programs.
Prostitution, he said, has considerable social costs - the spread of sexually transmitted disease, health care costs, degradation of neighborhoods, loss of business in prostitution areas and other negative impacts.
Smith, a former state attorney, said he plans to monitor the outcome of prostitution and solicitation cases in court to determine if prosecutors and judges are taking the crime seriously.
"I know that Bill Cervone is very attuned to this now, but I think historically all of us have not taken prostitution as seriously as we ought to," he said. "I can assure you I will be following the progress of this bill, and what I hope I don't find is that people just decide that it's business as usual. If I were to find that, I would be disappointed, and I think we would have to examine why and address that problem."
Jane Burman-Holton lives in the Kirkwood neighborhood between S. Main and SW 13th Streets, an area frequented by prostitutes. Burman-Holton supported Smith's legislation, especially components that call for greater addiction treatment.
"It provides resources and I think it would be very helpful to have programs to help prostitutes get off the street," she said. "They are primarily drug addicts. I think it's very sad."
Cindy Swirko can be reached at 374-5024 or swirkoc@ gvillesun.com.
FYI: Year's cases AT A GLANCE
  • Police said 37 men have been arrested for solicitation this year - six have been convicted; 14 have had adjudication of guilt withheld; the State Attorney's Office decided not to prosecute two other cases; another case was dropped; and two are in a pretrial diversion program. Twelve of the cases are still pending.
    LAW on Page 2B Continued from 1B LAW: Calls for drug treatment
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